The long-awaited "topaz" version of Microsoft Corp.s SMS is due to officially enter beta testing this summer with plans for better support for mobile users, an announcement that should help IT managers trying to get a handle on managing the growing legion of handheld devices carrying mission-critical corporate data.
Systems Management Server 2003 will support Windows CE, Pocket PC and Windows XP Embedded devices.
David Hamilton, director of the management business group at Microsoft, unveiled the new details at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas earlier this month. The decision to incorporate support beyond traveling laptops resulted from feedback from early adopters of the Topaz version of SMS, who have had an early release of Topaz since December, Hamilton said.
"Its clearly the case that Pocket PCs are appearing ad hoc—bought by users and then brought into the organization," Hamilton said. "But they are also being deployed from a top-down perspective as business-critical devices. In the case of Pocket PC, we were able late in the cycle to add this functionality into SMS 2003."
Because it was added late in the development cycle, that handheld support will follow the release of SMS 2003 by about three months, he added.
Mobile users will be better supported in software updates and deployments through a new mechanism called BITS (Background Intelligence Transfer Services). As users dial in over slow-speed links, over virtual private networks or on high-speed LANs, "it ensures that, in the background, processes are ongoing to install code while the user in the foreground continues to be productive," said Hamilton. BITS also includes a checkpoint restart capability that allows an update to pick up where it left off if a connection terminates.
SMS 2003 exploits features of Active Directory, although it does not require it. For customers that have Active Directory installed, SMS 2003 will use Active Directorys metaphor for organizational units and security groups to ensure the appropriate software is installed for defined groups and that users wont have access to resources theyre not permitted to use.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will address the complexity issue around deploying security patches before SMS 2003 is released, in a free, downloadable SMS 2.0 Value Pack due early this summer. The Value Pack contains a series of programs that "will interrogate the Microsoft Download Center and find out the latest security patches available for Windows, Microsoft Office and any other applications that register themselves," said Hamilton.
The software will then download the patches and allow SMS administrators to decide which are relevant, perform testing on the relevant patches, and "then deploy them as if they were doing a regular software update," he said.
For non-SMS users, Microsoft early this summer will release Software Update Services, which retrieves the latest patches and puts them on a Windows 2000 server and then gives administrators a simple tool for deploying security patches. It is based on technology from Windows Update, a consumer technology for keeping systems up-to-date.